Corn, beans, and amaranth were the principle features of the staple diet of pre-Hispanic people from Mexico down to Peru. Yet, unlike corn and beans, which have remained mainstays of the South American diet, amaranth has been almost completely abandoned. Significant for its nutritional properties and suitability to survive in the most arid regions, this resistant crop has been rediscovered in the last thirty years.
The Amaranthus hypochondriacus plant is native to the Tehuacán Valley and can reach two to three meters in height. It has large green leaves and magnificent flowers: brilliantly colored plumes of deep red with green and salmon-pink nuances.
Thanks to its beauty, amaranth used to be widely employed in celebrations and religious rituals, including some particularly cruel ones, which provoked Christian missionaries to ban its cultivation. Five hundred years after it was abandoned, a slow but significant effort to revive its use and reintroduce some amaranth varieties has had some success. Amaranth can enrich the poor diet of many indigenous peoples in Central and South America as it is rich in protein (particularly lysine, a key amino acid involved in growth processes). Amaranth can be eaten as a vegetable: the leaves are even richer in iron than spinach, which makes it an ideal addition to a young person’s diet. It can also be eaten in salads, soups or dried and used as a spice.
Toasted amaranth seeds are used to make traditional sweets such as alegría in Mexico. Alternatively, a flour can be produced for making tortillas (by mixing with corn flour), cakes and biscuits. Like buckwheat, amaranth also belongs to the category of minor cereals that do not contain gluten and thus can be used to make bread, pasta and biscuits for people with celiac disease.
Tehuacán valley, Puebla state
Alternativas y Procesos de Participación Social
Grupo de Empresas Sociales Quali
Raúl Hernández Garciadiego
tel. +52 2383712533